Mike Woodson has repeatedly said he's not worried about Amar'e Stoudemire finding his offense after returning from a left knee injury. Woodson is more concerned about Stoudemire's defensive game -- and Stoudemire knows that's where he needs the most improvement.
In fact, STAT admitted after Wednesday's practice that defense was something he had never really learned -- until now with Woodson as his head coach. While Woody was an assistant coach in New York last season, Stoudemire had mostly played under Mike D'Antoni's offensive game plan during his career.
"I think just having a defensive coach for the first time in my career is going to help," he said. "I've never been taught defense in my whole career, so to now have a coach that actually teaches defense and teaches strategies, and knows positioning and posture, how to guard different plays, it's going to be helpful. I'm going to take it as a challenge, and I'm going to accept the challenge and try to improve as a player."
In Stoudemire's season debut against the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night, he was clearly confused on defense. Guarding pick-and-rolls, he sunk too low, leaving LaMarcus Aldridge wide open for jump shots, and he lost sight of J.J. Hickson and allowed a couple of easy finishes.
During practice, Woodson went over a lot of halfcourt defense. While he explained rotations, he stressed effort and communication -- two factors that many Knicks have pointed to during their recent slide. Afterward, Stoudemire worked with assistants Herb Williams and LaSalle Thompson on defensive positioning while guarding pick-and-rolls. Both of them were showing STAT how to maintain a strong defensive stance, and to keep his hands high and active.
Woodson discussed the importance of practice time to get back to where they were on D. From Nov. 2 to Dec. 16, the Knicks were holding opponents to a ninth-best 96.1 points per game. But from Dec. 17 to now, as they've gone 3-5, that number shot up to 100.5.
"Early on, we were committed and early on we were practicing and getting after each other a little bit," Woodson said. "We've got to teach and get guys committed the best way possible."
Reflecting on his first practice after his first game, Stoudemire said he felt "great."
"I feel loose, I feel fit and feel ready to play," he said. "It's a great sign after my first game to feel as good as I do now. My second half [against Portland] was better than my first half and hopefully tomorrow's game will be better than the first game, and that process continues."
Stoudemire said he was "a little bit hesitant on certain moves," so he spent post-practice working on shot repetitions to get more comfortable on the court. While he's confident he'll regain his rhythm soon, for now he expects to remain around 17 minutes per game, which he played last night.
"They're still taking precautionary measures," he said. "The longevity is to be there for the second half of the season and going into the postseason. ... It's up to the training staff to determine my minutes."
Overall, Stoudemire said if the Knicks continue to build on their early success, he'll remain in the second unit.
"I've done it before," he said. "I expect myself to really get back in top shape and reach where I was before. But depending on how we're playing, if we're playing well and have no problems, I'll come off the bench."